Signs of the Times - February 2013 - (Page 96)
“So how often does a business with a
world-class product or service fail?”
By Wade Swormstedt
Where must be buttressed by what and how.
I read about aThe Washington Post had acclaimed
very interesting social experiment
violinist Joshua Bell play six Bach pieces incognito in
a D.C. metro station for 45 minutes on a $3.2 million
violin. Estimates are 1,100 people walked past him.
Only six people stopped for any discernible amount
of time. Approximately 20 people gave him a total of
$32, but even they barely paused as they kept walking.
Two days prior, Bell sold out a theater in Boston
where the tickets averaged $100.
The purpose, of course, was to show how people are
too busy to notice beauty, and the story also explained
how many children wanted to stop and listen, but were
hustled along by their parents.
But that’s not really why. It’s because people didn’t
know who the violinist was (and if they did, like me,
they wouldn’t know he was famous); they didn’t know
the violin was special, and they’re probably not fans of
I recall visiting The Louvre in Paris. Although my
qualifications as an art critic are zero, the Mona Lisa
wouldn’t even make my Top 10 for items in that
particular room. The proximate Wedding at Cannes
painting is 20 times more interesting and spectacular.
But we’ve been told since childhood that the Mona
Lisa is famous. And if we moved in symphony circles,
we’d know how famous Joshua Bell is. But, hypothetically,
what really prevented people from knowing who
Joshua Bell was or that he was scheduled to play?
What would have happened if a banner outside the
metro station had announced the place and time of
his performance two weeks in advance? What if the
nearest EMC said the same? What if transit ads in the
metro cars and buses carried the news?
Now let’s switch to an even larger city. In New York,
in a very-expensive rent district, a 25-story building
lies virtually empty above the third floor. Above the
Walgreen’s store, probably no other (legal) business
transactions occur inside. Nothing is stored, sold or
even promoted. Yet the building is appraised at $495
million, according to an article in the December 26,
2012 Wall Street Journal.
Because it’s the One Times Square building in Times
Square, and the annual rents paid for the signs on its
exterior are as follows, according to the WSJ article:
News America, Sony, $4 million; Dunkin’ Brands, $3.6
million; Toshiba/ADK, $3.5 million; Anheuser-Busch,
$3.4 million; TDK/ADK, $2.3 million; ADK $2.2 million
96 SIGNS OF THE TIMES / FEBRUARY 2013 / www.signweb.com
and Dow Jones, $1.1 million. Besides being the Crossroads of America for vehicular traffic, Times Square
also attracts more than 100 million pedestrians annually.
Of course, the fallback argument to virtually every
small-town, anti-sign sentiment is “We don’t want
to look like Times Square or Las Vegas.” But if their
school, law-enforcement or fire-protection facilities or
personnel were sorely lacking, they might be inclined
to slightly move in that direction.
Realtors tell us it’s “location, location, location.” But
for signage/advertising, that’s not enough. There must
also be a message, and a suitable one. Joshua Bell
certainly had a primo location. But a purely audio
“message” may be limited to background noise unless
readily identified. And, if Taylor Swift had been singing
instead, reaction would have been quite different. But,
given her publicity, she is recognizable enough to
function as a very effective sign by herself.
So how often does a business with a world-class
product or service fail? How often does this occur
because not enough customers – the right customers
– knew it existed? The on-premise sign, of course, is
not the end-all source for self promotion, in this socialmedia era. But, then again, I doubt if a Facebook
posting that Joshua Bell would be playing in a DC
metro station would go viral.
Scoffers might argue that a metro stop, because it
involves to-the-minute arrivals and departures, is, by
its very nature, a bustling place in a bustling city, and
virtually nothing would make people stop. Yet, how
many places in the world are more fast-paced than
Times Square? ( Just for fun, try standing in the middle
of a Broadway sidewalk, texting or reading a newspaper.)
Here’s a final thought: What would have happened
if the One Times Square “zipper” sign had announced
that Joshua Bell (and explained who he was, and the
value of the instrument he would be playing) would
offer a free, 45-minute concert at a specified time at
the 42nd St. subway stop? Probably something short of
Simon & Garfunkel’s 1981 Central Park freebie that
attracted 500,000, but still . . .
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Signs of the Times - February 2013
Signs of the Times - February 2013
Sign Museum News
Dressed to Impress
Uniqlo’s In-store Digital Signage
Pursuing a Different Rout
Word on the Street Signs
Signs of the Times - February 2013